Inuvik to Host Second National Event of Canada’s TRC


The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) will hold its second of seven national events from June 28 to July 1 in Inuvik, Northwest Territories. The event will provide survivors of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools (IRS) and other participants an opportunity to contribute to documenting and publicizing what took place in this program of forced assimilation.

For well over a century, generations of indigenous children in Canada were taken—often forcibly—from their homes, families, and communities and forced to attend government operated and church-run schools. More than 150,000 children were subjected to the IRS program of forced assimilation where overwhelming evidence shows physical, sexual, and emotional abuse was commonplace. Students were prohibited from speaking their native language and any practice of their cultural traditions was repressed.

By 1920, attendance at an IRS was compulsory for all indigenous Canadian children and this practice continued for decades. According to the TRC documents, the impact of IRS system is not only felt by indigenous children. The issue affected and continues to affect all Canadians as several generations of non-indigenous children are ingrained with the beliefs taught in Canada’s schools. While Aboriginal children were being taught in residential schools that their languages, race and culture were inferior, non-Aboriginal children were being taught the same thing in their schools.

Despite various government inquiries into conditions at residential schools, the state resisted dismantling the IRS program for the better part of a century. They were eventually discredited and discontinued, but it was only in 1996 that the last school closed.

The debate on the legacy of IRS system was sparked in the 1990s, when high-profile former students publicly denounced the abuse they suffered in the schools and started a massive litigation movement. After years of negotiations, in 2006 the federal government, churches, and indigenous groups agreed to a two billion dollar settlement package for the estimated 80,000 survivors of the schools. The package included the establishment of a truth commission—the first-ever created by a judicial process—and compensation for survivors.

Canada’s TRC was established in June 2008 and the inaugural event was held June 2010 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Its mandate is to establish the truth about what happened in the residential schools and inform all Canadians of these findings. A year prior to the establishment of the commission the Canadian government issued a formal apology to the indigenous peoples for the policy of “Killing the Indian in the Child.”

ICTJ has worked since 2005 to provide technical advice to the TRC and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and other groups working on the settlement process and indigenous rights. We participated in the TRC’s inaugural event and helped disseminate the work of the TRC. In partnership with the TRC, ICTJ facilitated a retreat in October 2010 enabling 20 youth to take part in the TRC process and to inspire them to learn more about their parents’ and grandparents’ past.

ICTJ will proudly take part in the upcoming national event in Inuvik and continue to support this important truth-seeking initiative.

Photo: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine at the House of Commons on Parliament Hill June 11, 2008 in Ottawa, Canada. Harper delivered a formal statement of apology on behalf of the Federal Government and all Canadians to former students of Indian Residential Schools. Photo by Mike Carroccetto/Getty Images.